Infernax is an 8-bit 2D Metroidvania style game with platforming elements and dark themes that feed into a morality system. The retro graphics, music, and gameplay remind me of Shovel Knight, save that Infernax is the opposite of Shovel Knight‘s brand of quirky and wholesome family fun. Infernax boasts buckets of blood and plenty of creatively disturbing imagery, but the uniquely upsetting aspect of this game is its sidequests, which force the player to make distinctly unpleasant choices.
You play as Alcedor, a duke who served as a knight in the Holy War and returns to his homeland only to find it overrun with the undead. Your job is to infiltrate the five demon strongholds and thereby break the magical seal on your own castle, which is occupied by the big boss demon. You navigate the 2D overworld with the various skills that you acquire in the five 2D dungeons, and along the way you accumulate experience points and money that you can use to upgrade your abilities and equipment.
Infernax bills itself as having a “tough-as-nails” level of difficulty. I found that it isn’t actually that hard until the final two levels, in which the platforming is a bit too precision-oriented for the game mechanics. If you prefer, you can get around this difficulty by using Game Genie style cheat codes (these ones right here) on a menu that’s available at every save point. Using this system to allow yourself infinite lives and access a double-jump ability can really help you out toward the end of the game, where failure at the platforming segments is unduly punished.
I think it’s important to be realistic and accurate about the difficulty level of a game like this, as not everyone is looking for a super hyper mega challenge. Maybe some people just want to stroll around a horror-themed digital theme park while fighting skeletons and zombies, and that’s cool. Infernax lets you turn the cheat codes on and off at any point you like and doesn’t penalize you for using them, and it offers a decent but not impossible challenge to anyone who wants to play the game straight.
The parts where you might need to use a walkthrough are when Infernax asks you to make a binary choice. This choice is usually between showing mercy to monsters or outright killing them. The key to these choices is presented to the player at the very beginning of the game, when you’re asked to make a decision regarding whether to spare someone who has been possessed by a demon. If you’re a decent person and choose to spare him, he kills several people and forces you to kill him anyway.
In order to get the “ultimate good” ending, the player has to continue to choose to kill monsters. This isn’t always easy. Later in the game, for example, a town under siege has trapped another possessed person in a cage. The townspeople claim that the possessed man has killed people, and that he needs to be put to death. Succumbing to the will of an angry mob with torches in order to enact violence on a seemingly defenseless person in a small cage isn’t great. If you let him go, however, he kills everyone. Should you allow the townspeople to set the possessed man on fire, it takes a long time for him to burn, and he screams and thrashes in pain the entire time.
This violence is somewhat mitigated by the 8-bit pixel graphics, which add a layer of campiness to the grimdark world. What Infernax celebrates isn’t just the visuals and gameplay of 8-bit games, but also their unironic and unapologetic violence. Infernax leans into this goriness by having its overworld enemies constantly attack and kill soldiers right in front of you. You can save some of these people, but most become zombie food. Sometimes you’re forced to kill other humans, which can be bloody business as well. If you like, you can aim for the “ultimate evil” ending and kill other humans by choice. This makes the game more difficult in terms of gameplay but also more interesting from a narrative perspective.
Infernax delights in violence for the sake of violence. It’s not actually that deep, but it’s quite fun. Even as they’ve created a dungeon whose theme is literally “piles of dead babies,” the developers are sensitive to the needs of a diversity of players and allow you to customize the level of difficulty to suit your preferences. In addition, there are multiple guides online that will help you unlock all the various silly bonuses the game has to offer, which include letting you run around with a machine gun and giving you free rein to zip through the overworld on a motorcycle.
If you’re bad at games like I am, Infernax might take about ten to fifteen hours to finish without cheat codes. If you’re good at games – or if you use cheat codes – it can be finished in under five hours, which makes the prospect of exploring multiple morality paths more intriguing. Overall, I spent about twenty hours in ultraviolent medieval zombie demon hell, and I regret nothing.